By Linsey Satterthwaite
The DIY superhero movie has become something of a subgenre in the last few years, whether in direct correlation to the rise in real superhero movies or as an ironic backlash against them. We had the drug-aided Michael Rapaport in Special (2006). We had the mentally unbalanced Woody Harrelson in Defendor (2009). And we had the inexperienced but enthusiastic Aaron Johnson in Kick Ass (2010).
Now we have Rainn Wilson as the self-titled hero The Crimson Bolt in Super, the latest film from director James Gunn. Gunn, whose previous film Slither (2006) was a flawed but underrated comedy-horror, seems to have been dealt a similar blow again with Super, which has been all but denied a wide cinematic release in the UK and instead has gone promptly to DVD. Perhaps this is due to a lack of faith in the movie finding an audience and being branded a below par Kick-Ass rip off which is a shame for a film that is in equal measures painfully funny and painfully violent.
Rainn Wilson plays Frank, an everyday man who creates the alter ego of The Crimson Bolt when his recovering drug addict wife (Liv Tyler looking far too pretty to be a junkie) relapses and leaves him for the local drug dealer Jacques (Kevin Bacon in sleazily fun form). Frank believes he can save his wife from herself and from Jacques and ‘shut up crime’ along the way, armed with a home-made costume and a matching wrench. On his journey of self and social destruction, he ‘inherits’ a sidekick Bolty (Ellen Page) a comic book store worker who is plucky but unhinged, a flurry of manic laughter and lycra tights, together they work their way up from petty crime to orchestrating their rescue mission in a bloody climatic sequence.
Those expecting an amusing romp should not be fooled by the upbeat title and primary colours, Super is funny, but it is a humour dripped in black, with echoes of dejection and lashings of violence. The direction is kept within the mundane, maintaining the human element of the story despite the subject matter, apart from one scene which is punctured with comic book visuals, but also includes home made bombs and exploding bodies.
Rainn Wilson, usually at home in straight up comedy roles shows previously untapped layers, going from sad sack loser to anger riddled avenger, waving between bumbling idiot and temperamental rage man. Ellen Page meanwhile reminds us that is she is at home playing the off kilter girl in the indie arena. James Gunn’s direction manages to pull off the uneasy task of laugh-out-loud one minute to deeply unsettling the next. He also draws on his previous film Slither with slimy imagery when Frank has his revelation and with his casting choices (former cohort Nathan Fillion cameos as an evangelical TV Superhero The Holy Avenger).
Super is at times an awkward film, but perhaps this is the point. Whilst it has many comedic elements to it, we should never be fully at ease with the violence that is portrayed on screen. We can still be uncomfortably entertained though with a film that deserves to find an audience and be ‘rescued’ on the small screen. It’s somewhere in the no-man’s land between 3 and 4 Torches so as it’s not Super’s fault that Kick Ass was released first we’ll go with four.